DISH offers a sweet three-year price guarantee and one of the best DVRs available, but picture quality is unreliable, and you’ll miss out on regional sports networks.
Spectrum TV is good if you’re bundling and on a budget, and we love the $500 contract buyouts. Better yet, Spectrum doesn’t force you into a contract, so you can give the cable TV service a try with relatively little risk. We don’t love the low channel count, and it’s a bummer that you can get 4K programming only if you also have home internet (and upgrade your DVR to an Apple TV box).
DISH stands out in the satellite TV space for its straightforward billing and three-year price guarantee for new customers. The basic package starts at about the same price as DIRECTV’s lowest-tier package, but premium packages cost a lot less. You’ll pay a little less for cable TV compared to DISH in many parts of the country, but things like competition between carriers and available technologies lead to big geographic differences.
DISH has a lot to offer casual viewers, but you won’t have access to NFL SUNDAY TICKET or any 24/7 channels in 4K resolution like you would with DIRECTV. There might be occasional problems with the picture quality for live sports, but those issues are rare for movies and most TV shows. Compared to cable TV, DISH usually offers better picture quality and many more channels.
While DISH is a lot more straightforward than DIRECTV, there are a few fees that can sneak up on you, including a local broadcast fee. You can get out of that fee by finding another way to watch local channels, but be sure to read your bill carefully each month.
Spectrum TV is a good choice for basic TV viewing on a budget, especially if you bundle with home internet. You get more than 125 channels with TV SELECT and more than 140 channels on MI PLAN LATINO, but those are your only package options. It’s a decent channel-per-dollar ratio, and Spectrum says all its channels are broadcast in HD. These basic packages include your local networks plus a range of options for news, entertainment, and sports. You’ll need add-ons for international programming, premium sports, and premium education and entertainment.
We love that Spectrum TV doesn’t require contracts and even pays to buy you out of another contract, and we like its upfront pricing structure. Compared to other live TV options, it’s easier to pay only for what you actually watch. However, add-ons get pricey in a hurry and you’ll pay even more for your cable boxes and DVRs. Plus, there’s virtually no way out of a local broadcast fee, which tops out at more than $22 per month. Worst of all, that low base price will increase in the range of $20–$30 per month after your first 12 months. Competing services have much bigger second-year price jumps (we’re looking at you, DIRECTV and Astound TV), but we still wish Spectrum would end the practice.
DISH Hopper DVRs are fantastic, and they easily outshine the competition. The Hopper 2 is the standard model and comes with voice control, a Netflix app, and internal Wi-Fi. The Hopper Plus, released in 2022, is an add-on streaming box that lets you add thousands of streaming apps. With DIRECTV’s set top box, you miss out on the apps.
If you upgrade to the Hopper 3 or Hopper Plus with DISH, you’ll pay about $5 more each month. But you get a whole lot for the money. The super-powered DVRs can record up to 16 shows or games at once and save 500 hours of HD recordings. Plus, they're 4K-enabled and beam your DVR content straight to your smartphone or additional set-top boxes around the house so you can watch from anywhere. It also comes with more streaming apps than the basic version, plus built-in Bluetooth so you can watch with earbuds.
The Hopper 3 and Hopper Plus at extraordinarily powerful, but you won’t be able to use all the extra features if you don’t have high-speed internet. If you do, and you want to catch a metric ton of games and shows on your schedule, we think the extra monthly cost is worth it.
Spectrum TV is pretty bare-bones when it comes to features. It uses HD receivers from a handful of companies, but none are very impressive and there’s no way to control which one you receive. The no-frills remote has controls for channels, a TV guide, and your DVR (if you pay extra for the service). It’s functional, but not nearly as good as the DVR setups you’ll get with satellite TV providers. We don’t love that you have to pay around $10 extra each month for DVR and even more for cloud DVR. Additionally, the HD receivers can handle only 1080p. You can get around that by using the included streaming service in 4K on a different device, but that feels like unnecessary hassle.
Rather than create its own high-tech DVR, Spectrum offers a payment plan for a 4K Apple TV that’s preloaded with the Spectrum TV app. You can also use your own Apple TV or buy theirs up front, but the Apple TV option requires internet access. It’s the best way to access 4K programming with Spectrum, but it ends up being a little more expensive than the competition’s top-of-the-line DVRs.
If you end service before you pay your Apple TV off, you’ll be charged the complete price for the device. It’s not a bad deal if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem and have multiple streaming services in addition to cable TV, but it’s not a huge value add for a lot of users.
DISH covers satellite antenna installation and DVR setup for what it calls “credit-qualified customers,” meaning customers who sign up for a two-year contract. Some competing cable companies charge closer to $100 for installation, so it’s nice to see both top satellite providers—DISH and DIRECTV—cover the initial setup.
Your standard monthly package price with DISH includes rental of one Hopper Duo DVR, but you’ll pay extra to add a wireless Joey receiver for other TVs or to upgrade to the Hopper 3. You will also pay extra for DISH Outdoors, a portable satellite antenna and receiver system you can mount on your truck or RV. If you already have DISH at home, the Outdoors setup doesn’t cost much more, making it a great option for camping or tailgate parties.
If you want to skip the Hoppers and Joeys altogether, you’ll need the Wally receiver and your own hard drive for recording shows. DIY DVR with DISH isn’t worth the hassle for most folks, but it is an option if you're tech-savvy and already own the equipment.
There’s also an option for people who don’t want the contract: Flex TV. You have to buy your DVR outright and pay for the installation out-of-pocket, but you can skip the credit check and pay for TV month to month.
Spectrum’s equipment isn’t the best. You can’t choose which set-top receiver you get, and you have to pay extra to rent a DVR and even more for cloud storage. You can buy an Apple TV 4K from Spectrum, either in monthly installments or as a lump sum, but will pay extra for DVR services, which are available only over the cloud.
Installation isn’t top of the line, either. Spectrum doesn’t list its installation fees publicly, but many customers report a $50 charge for professional installation. We’ve also heard of a charge for self-installation. That price isn’t too high, but we don’t like the idea of paying for an installation when you do the work yourself. Waiting for a free installation promotion or calling to order over the phone is the best way to wriggle out of these fees.
DISH can’t compete with DIRECTV’s exclusive access to NFL SUNDAY TICKET and its growing list of options in 4K resolution. There are no regional sports networks, either. But you’ll pay a lot less for DISH (in both English and Spanish) and still get access to a wide variety of pro and college sports. The lowest-tier package includes five different ESPN channels and FOX Sports 1 HD, and you can add the Multi-Sport Pack plus your regional sports channel for about $25 per month. To catch the best pro basketball, hockey, and soccer games, you’ll need to upgrade to the second-tier package.
Where DISH lacks in NFL coverage and 4K sports, it shines in entertainment. A huge list of movies and shows is available at all pricing levels, and you can add even more by going up a tier. You can also add channels like Encore and EPIX for a monthly fee. Other add-ons cost a dollar or two more than they do with the competition, but you’ll still pay less overall. DISH wins points for having a user-friendly, sortable channel guide on its website, making it easy to choose the right package for your needs.
Sports are one of the main reasons to pay for live TV, and you can catch a lot of games in HD with Spectrum TV. Channels like ESPN and ESPN2 come included with the standard packages, and you can pay an extra $6 each month for a sports package that includes NFL RedZone, MLB Strike Zone, and Golf Channel. For around $100, you can add MLS DIRECT KICK or MLB EXTRA INNINGS.
There’s no way to watch every NFL game under the sun like you can with DIRECTV, but we like that Spectrum rolls its regional sports fee into its broadcast fee. Compared to Xfinity, you’ll pay about $10 less in broadcast and sports fees every month.
For movies and entertainment, Spectrum’s add-on prices are on par with the competition. You can choose HBO Max, SHOWTIME, STARZ, CINEMAX, THE MOVIE CHANNEL, or Epix, and everything’s in HD. There are fewer available add-ons than with Xfinity or either satellite provider, but Spectrum has the basics covered.
You won’t see promotional pricing on any of the premium channels like you will with the competition, but we aren’t mad about it. Those promotions mostly amount to hidden charges a few months into the contract, and we applaud Spectrum for being more straightforward.
Read our expert guides to learn more about how to watch MLB, how to watch the NFL and the top cheap providers we tested.